21 November 2007

Where will you (the audience) draw the line?

Will you draw it here?

As Josh begs for his life, Vlasák slashes his Achilles tendons with a scapel and allows him to leave. Unable to walk, Josh tries crawling to freedom, before the Dutchman drags him back into the cell and kills him.

As Paxton begs for his life in German, the client gags Paxton and saws off two of Paxton's fingers with a chainsaw ... Paxton follows Vlasák to a public restroom, where he cuts off two of the man's fingers, bludgeons his face into the toilet bowl and slits his throat as he begs for his life.

Eli Roth ... peppily refers to a scene ... in which a businessman directs a blowtorch on the eye of a bound female victim until it dangles uselessly from its socket, as the 'eye-gasm'. *

Or here?

Liz ... manages to escape by cutting the cable ties that bind her hands together, and as night falls she discovers Mick torturing Kristy by shooting at her, tormenting her and sexually abusing her.
Liz ... gets into a car and attempts to start it but Taylor announces himself with a sinister chuckle and stabs her through the driver's seat with a huge knife. He then cuts off some of her fingers, severs her spinal cord (making what Mick calls "a head on a stick") and tortures her to reveal the location of Kristy.

Or maybe here?

Tenia brutally rapes Marcus's girlfriend Alex and puts her into a coma. ... This scene is filmed using a single, unbroken take, lasting nine minutes. After Tenia rapes Alex, he repeatedly punches and kicks at her head and stomach.

Or possibly here?

The shocking sequences in Eastern Promises, which centres on the Russian mafia in London, include one in which a knife is twisted repeatedly and gleefully into a man’s eye and two showing victims having their throats cut in graphic detail.

I don't see why audiences would ever draw the line. If the mediocratic elite (film directors, critics, official censors) tell them it's okay, why should the audience question this?

We have of course the usual rationalisations of pseudo-iconoclasm:
'challenge', 'radical', 'confronting', 'risk-taking', and so forth.

When, during filming, the actor playing the most sadistic of the psychos [in Robert Zombie's The Devil's Rejects] became traumatized by what he had to do, Zombie reportedly told him, “Art is not safe.” **

“Scenes that make people turn away are part of the fun of going to movies,” said the British Board of Film Classification in defence of allowing Eastern Promises to screen without cuts.

The ethos of making pain, suffering and torture acceptable entertainment isn't confined to the more obviously shocking horror movies. Recently I watched Pan's Labyrinth, thinking it would be an amusing mix of political history and magical realism. In fact, at least half the point of it seemed to be to show torture and sadism.

Displaying the goriness of injuries full-on has become a standard feature of even the most innocuous dramas. Torchwood and Cranford are two recent examples where we were shown more of this than necessary. I am guessing here, but I imagine a two-fold rationale is being employed: the ideological one (it is 'real'), and the one about demand (it boosts viewing figures).

It is hard to believe that watching this kind of material does not have some effect on people's attitudes. It's easy to scoff at the idea that it encourages people to imitate the behaviour of the fictional psychopaths. While it may not make anyone commit murders who wouldn't have done so anyway, it may encourage those who do murder to behave more callously towards their victims. More to the point, it may make ordinary people feel less inhibited about behaving sadistically in everyday situations, towards (say) their spouses, or their elderly parents.

Perhaps the prevalence of these movies is part of the reason why many in the West nowadays seem to feel more relaxed about contemplating the use of torture in interrogation.

* Daily Telegraph
** David Edelstein

More thoughts on movie violence, from Westminster Wisdom